Friday, August 2, 2013

My Internet access has become extremely limited as this trip has progressed along the coast of Maine. This is because the Internet gizmo that plugs into the USB port of the computer relates to a company that does better farther south. That would be T-Mobile.

So now, an upgrade is in progress. I never used to care terribly about not having e-mail while sailing, and it became a treat to not use the computer for a week at a time. But now I have a blog! And I’m enjoying the process of writing, and up until the Internet connection stopped working well enough, I was enjoying putting things up in a somewhat regular way. Now, several posts have been written, and are waiting their turns. This one is by way of explanation, so that when things eventually work out, the sudden collection of posts will make some kind of sense.

Presently, myself and boat are anchored by Birch Island. This is in the small archipelago that defines the Muscle Ridge Channel, south and a little east of Rockland, Maine, on the west side of Penobscot Bay. “Muscle” is actually spelled that way in this case – according to the cruising guide, that’s the archaic spelling for the small blue shellfish. Any way around, it’s a lovely spot, with a sandy beach on Birch Island, and extraordinary quarried granite on islands on the other side of the anchorage.

The quarrying history has its sadness – in a 50 year flurry of people and machinery, many islands in this region were terribly torn up, their granite hauled to Boston and New York for historic buildings, and the islands left lower, with piles of broken rock tailings and giant rectangular blocks made into wharves that were used for loading the ships during the original quarrying process. It’s a mixed history, but those granite wharves are pretty amazing to see.

The other especially attractive thing about this anchorage is that it’s the home base for Mainstay Provisions, a business run by a woman named Reilly Harvey. Each evening around five o’clock she brings her specially outfitted workboat around the anchorage – cooking lobster! Boatside service, with lobster, sometimes steamers, sometimes chowder, and all manner of baked treats and salads. Particularly because I don’t get off the boat very much, this is my idea of perfect heaven! It’s the ideal place to stay for a few days.

Which brings me back to the Internet process. Yesterday Suzanne went to Best Buy (thank you Mike for tracking down the best way to do this!) and got a new gadget, which is now in the mail to my Aunt Patsy who lives on the other side of the Muscle Ridge Channel. The gadget is a Verizon “jet pack” – apparently also called an “air card.” The idea is that it uses a signal from a cell tower to make a little Wi-Fi hotspot.

I originally set out to get a smart phone – I’ve been resisting these things for a while but the idea is that they too can make their own little Wi-Fi hotspot. Then the fellow in the store said oh, well if that’s what you want it for, how about this thing – the jet pack – which is cheaper, has a $20/month plan for 2 GB of service, and according to him provides a better Internet signal. So I said yes, and it’s on its way. We’ll know if it works by if anybody besides me gets to read this post right here!

This undertaking was not without its complications. Suzanne had to become an authorized person on my phone account in order to set up the new gizmo in the store, which meant that I had to reach a real human being at Verizon, which is no small feat, and then call Suzanne and the salesperson back in the store to let them know that was done. Explanations of the myriad equipment/plan choices happened between me, Suzanne, the salesperson, and on and on.

None of this would have been a big deal if I had not been sailing at the time that Suzanne was in the store finding all this out! And talking on the phone while sailing would not have been a big deal if the wind had blown a little more, or I had more understanding of the current dynamics in the channel out of Seal Harbor, or I had the good sense to postpone either the phone calls or the departure from the harbor. As it was, phone calls were interrupted – priorities being the way the current was sweeping the boat directly toward the rocky point on the north side of the harbor entrance. You would think that the current would divide around the point, and sweep the boat either to one side or to the other. No dice. Straight toward the rocky point. No giant breakers or anything, but really too close. So I caved and started the motor, with some significant exasperation, mainly at myself for getting into this situation. “Needing” the motor, in the way that I’ve been using it, is a scorecard that indicates room for improvement, in one way or another, whether in planning, or preparation, or decision-making along the way.

There were several lessons from this experience. First, and most obvious, it doesn’t matter how important whatever is on the other end of the telephone seems – if there is the least question on the here and now sailing front, the phone has got to go. The motor worked, there was no terrible danger, the outcome was fine, but an example of good seamanship it was not. If I had been paying full attention I would have continued making tacks in the tiny breeze as I saw the boat entering the stream of the stiffer current. I had been actually making progress, using this strategy, gradually making headway toward getting around that point without mechanical means, though it was a question whether the flooding current was going to increase too much for the failing wind even with careful attention. Anyway, we won’t know, because I was busy on the phone, and not giving the here-and-now situation my full attention.

As it was, I got off the phone anyway without having resolved things, ran the motor, got the boat around the point and into the main stream of the current going north, shut off the motor and went back to sailing. Once things were completely calm, the phone process was picked up again and also resolved. I am absolutely, perfectly delighted to have made this much progress with the Internet gizmo – but the biggest lesson I am taking from this experience is to improve my decision-making on the mix between sailing and phones.

It’s easy to take phone use while sailing for granted, because unlike cars, on a fast day this boat is going about 5 mph, and on a day like yesterday about 1, and “traffic” often means you can see another boat passing about a mile away. But still… better lines need to be drawn. And in the face of competing priorities, the here and now needs to be first. Funny how electronics can be so seductive – if the person on the other end of the line was in a crisis and my participation could make a difference, I would still bend towards staying on the phone, but I’m going to be much, much more alert for the simple non-crisis priority questions.

Now, at the end of all this, the gizmo is in the mail, due to arrive across the channel either tomorrow (Saturday) or Monday. One way or another it will make the last bit of travel connection, and we’ll see if it works! Here’s hoping. Meantime, this is a great place to sit in the rain and the fog, watching the beautiful islands.